Fresh helmets won't hurt you

The points raised by Mr. Ballance and the Hook in the May 24 article on bike helmets ["More risk? Safety engineer slams proposed helmet law"] are not valid arguments against helmet usage. There is no debate that bike helmet use can prevent head injuries.

The risk factor cited by Mr. Ballance for helmets "digging in" and causing neck injuries is associated with an obsolete helmet design no longer manufactured or sold in the U.S. These "soft shell" helmets disappeared from the market when the research showing their dangers emerged and have been replaced with the "micro shell" design that largely eliminates the problem.

The claim that wearing helmets leads to riskier behavior is not supported by the evidence. The data showed that cyclists who wear helmets regularly were more fearful and rode more slowly when they rode without helmets. Well, duh.

People who wear helmets understand that helmets reduce risk of injury and realize that they are less at risk when they are wearing their helmets. If they are forced to ride without helmets, they will ride more slowly and cautiously than when they are riding with their helmets because they are scared to death that if they fall they could sustain a head injury. It doesn't mean that when they are wearing their helmets that they are riding at an unsafe speed or engaging in "risky" behavior.

The new under-14 helmet ordinance requires helmet use on public roads, places where Mr. Ballance would also argue for helmet use. The ordinance does not indicate required helmet usage in parks (e.g. Riverview Trail) or in your private driveway or yard.

Bottom line, wear a helmet anytime you get on a bike and you will be safer than without a helmet.

Ruth Stornetta

P.S.  More info on bike helmets at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association Helmet advocacy website:

Read more on: bicycle safetybicycling


Thank you Ruth for your well-reasoned letter.

Wearing a helmet requires a rider to wear it properly -- position the front of the helmet just above the eyes, the straps should be snug but not tight and the straps should make a "Y" below the ears. If a helmet is involved in a crash, then it should be replaced. It's one and done.

Too often I have seen young riders with the helmet tilted back, exposing their foreheads or cocked to the side, both of which reduces protection.

Also, I see children wearing helmets, but not their parents. When I ask parents where their helmets are, I get the lamest excuses -- I forgot it: it doesn't fit; I don't need it. It only takes one unforeseen circumstance to cause a crash and a concussion for children and parents.

Parents, set a good example and wear your helmet too.

You say that the new micro shell design "largely eliminates the problem" of helmets digging in. Largely, but not totally. So you're saying Mr Ballance's concerns are still valid, as at least some of the problem remains, right?

You say "people who wear helmets" ride more slowly and cautiously when they remove the helmet, yet you say they (to paraphrase) don't ride in a more risky fashion when they wear the helmet. So what you mean is when they don their helmets, they just ride faster and less cautiously than when without. Right. Got it. I think.

You say that the "bottom line [is], wear a helmet anytime you get on a bike and you will be safer than without a helmet." Well, actually, you (and everyone) should be wearing their helmets whenever they aren't laying down, statistically speaking. According to the Brain Injury Association of America and the CDC, 595,000 people suffer a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) every year - by falling down! The BIAA says 10,000 TBI's come from motorcycles while there are 8,000 TBI's come from pedestrians every year! Oh, and car drivers suffer almost 200,000 TBI's every year. Who needs the helmets?

The problem is a matter of perceived risks. We all know about gravity and Newton's 3 laws of motion. Driving a motorcycle just looks risky. But when you fall down-go-boom, your head follows Newton's laws, and WHAM - TBI! But hey, walking isn't as loud or fast as that-there motorcycle-thingy, is it?

The other problem is: there aren't as many motorcyclists as there are car drivers, pedestrians and people who can't walk without falling down - so putting helmets on the heads of motorcycles has much less political repercussion.

Going after 10,000 TBI's and part of the 6,000 deaths from motorcycles every year and ignoring the remaining 1,700,000 TBI's coming from everything else is like planting a tree in your yard to combat environmental pollution when 130,000 acres of rain forest is being destroyed every day. But what the heck, if it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy-like... that's all that matters!

DUH! I done-did forgot to add the TBI stats for bicycles. Sorry!

The BIAA and CDC say 1,100 TBI's come from bicycles. That's almost 7,000 fewer than pedestrians, 9,000 fewer than motorcycles, 199,000 fewer than people in cars, and 594,000 less than people who just plain-old fall down.

And since I'm here, here's another scary fact everyone ignores: the National Center for Biotechnology Information (a division of the National Institutes of Health) says 2,177,888 fall off a ladder every year. Maybe we should mandate parachutes and safety nets be sold, and used, with every ladder. Sound right?

Terry, I don't want to be a statistic; I just want to be safe as a bicyclist. That's why I always wear a helmet. As a 11-year-old, I suffered a concussion and skull fracture that required emergency surgery and weeks of recovery following a non-bicycling incident. I don't want to experience that again.

Only you can prevent head damage.........